Phil Plait, creator of Bad Astronomy — one of the best sites on the whole wide world wide web, which you should check out immediately if you don’t ordinarily do so — posted a link yesterday to a page maintained by the Scientists and Engineers for America detailing what the presidential candidates and most of the Senate and House candidates think about scientific issues. I thought it would be fun to check out what the four candidates on the major party presidential tickets had to say on stuff like global warming, space exploration, and science education. So that’s what I did.
I’ll start at the top.
(Democrat Presidential Candidate, as if you didn’t already know)
What he thinks about global warming: “There can no longer be any doubt that human activities are influencing the global climate and we must react quickly and effectively. First, the U.S. must get off the sidelines and take long-overdue action here at home to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions. We must also take a leadership role in designing technologies that allow us to enjoy a growing, prosperous economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.”
Sounds good to me, but then there’s this: “I will also create a Technology Transfer Program dedicated to exporting climate-friendly technologies, including green buildings, clean coal and advanced automobiles, to developing countries to help them combat climate change.” What’s the problem with that? Even folks on Barack’s side are worried about his support for so-called clean coal, which many insist is a step in the wrong direction, not to mention an oxymoron.
What he thinks about space exploration: “Under my administration, NASA not only will inspire the world with both human and robotic space exploration, but also will again lead in confronting the challenges we face here on Earth, including global climate change, energy independence, and aeronautics research. . . . I believe that a revitalized NASA can help America maintain its innovation edge and contribute to American economic growth. . . . I will re-establish [the National Aeronautics and Space Council] reporting to the president. It will oversee and coordinate civilian, military, commercial, and national security space activities. It will solicit public participation, engage the international community, and work toward a 21st century vision of space that constantly pushes the envelope on new technologies as it pursues a balanced national portfolio that expands our reach into the heavens and improves life here on Earth.”
Over the summer Obama’s campaign also released its proposed space policy, which includes adding an additional space shuttle mission to those already planned before the vehicle’s retirement in 2010, finally completing construction of the International Space Station, and putting a man on the Moon by 2020 — all good stuff, but all of which we’ve heard before, most of it from President Bush. Two weeks ago, Obama sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi criticizing the Bush administration for failing to fund its proposed space exploration programs. He closed by recalling NASA’s glory days in the 1960s, when President Kennedy “inspired America to explore the heavens. He set difficult goals for NASA but, importantly, he and a Democratic Congress provided NASA with the resources necessary for success. And succeed they did. NASA helped America win the Cold War without firing a single shot by dazzling the world with our technological and moral leadership. It is time to dazzle them again.”
What he thinks about science education: Obama accepts evolution and opposes teaching intelligent design in science class, telling the York Daily Record this past March, “I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state. But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there's a difference between science and faith. That doesn't make faith any less important than science. It just means they're two different things. And I think it's a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don't hold up to scientific inquiry.”
He also has this to say in his response to the science education question on the SEA questionnaire: “I recently introduced the ‘Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Act of 2008’ that would establish a STEM Education Committee within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to coordinate the efforts of federal agencies engaged in STEM education, consolidate the STEM education initiatives . . . under the direction of an Office of STEM Education, and create a State Consortium for STEM Education.”
See Barack’s full responses to the science and technology questionnaire and his record on science issues right here.
(Republican Presidential Candidate, though someone should probably tell him that)
What he thinks about global warming: “The same fossil-fuels that power our economic engine also produced greenhouse gases that retain heat and thus threaten to alter the global climate. No challenge of energy is to be taken lightly, and least of all, the need to avoid the consequences of global warming. The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington.”
McCain’s response to climate change is solid, and stunningly progressive when viewed against his fellow Republicans, most of whom tackle the issue with something between grudging acceptance and outright denial. McCain, like Obama, supports a cap-and-trade system to encourage private industries to reduce their carbon emissions, and raising CAFE standards and enforcing stiffer penalties on violators. He has said addressing climate change will be one of the top three priorities of his administration; legislation he co-sponsored with Joe Lieberman in 2007 would only mandate a reduction of emissions to 60% of 1990 levels, as opposed to Obama’s proposed reduction to 80% of 1990.
What he thinks about space exploration: “As President, I will — Ensure that space exploration is top priority and that the U.S. remains a leader; Commit to funding the NASA Constellation program to ensure it has the resources it needs to begin a new era of human space exploration; Review and explore all options to ensure U.S. access to space by minimizing the gap between the termination of the Space Shuttle and the availability of its replacement vehicle; Ensure the national space workforce is maintained and fully utilized; Complete construction of the ISS National Laboratory; Seek to maximize the research capability and commercialization possibilities of the ISS National Laboratory; Maintain infrastructure investments in Earth-monitoring satellites and support systems; Seek to maintain the nation's space infrastructure; Prevent wasteful earmarks from diverting precious resources from critical scientific research; and ensure adequate investments in aeronautics research.”
McCain also, like Obama, supports extending shuttle flights until the Ares/Orion replacement vehicle is ready. He seems eager to maintain funding for NASA and support the ISS, and he supports the proposed future lunar and Martian manned missions. But NASA boosters note that McCain opposed increasing NASA funding following the loss of the shuttle Columbia in 2003; does that mean McCain’s support for the space program would only last so long as things are running smoothly?
What he thinks about science education: “The diminishing number of science, technology, engineering and math graduates at the college level poses a fundamental and immediate threat to American competitiveness. We must fill the pipeline to our colleges and universities with students prepared for the rigors of advanced engineering, math, science and technology degrees. . . . I will devote 60 percent of Title II funding for incentive bonuses for high performing teachers to locate in the most challenging educational settings, for teachers to teach subjects like math and science, and for teachers who demonstrate student improvement. Payments will be made directly to teachers.”
McCain has also stated his acceptance of evolution, while being careful not to piss off the antiscientific portion of his base: “From a personal standpoint, I believe in evolution. When I stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and I see the sun going down, I believe the hand of God was there.” A less explicit version of Obama’s “science and faith are two different things” statement. The SEA page doesn’t mention whether McCain supports teaching intelligent design in science class as an “alternative theory” to evolution, but a New York Sun story from 2006 linked as a reference describes McCain mocking “the idea that American young people were so delicate and impressionable that they needed to be sheltered from the concept [of intelligent design],” suggesting that he misses the point of the debate. The Sun story also says, “He noted that he didn't say that intelligent design needed to be taught in ‘science class,’ leaving unclear exactly what class he thought it should be taught in.”
See John’s full responses to the science and technology questionnaire and his record on science issues right here.
Ah yes, the running mates . . .
(Democrat Vice Presidential Candidate, complete with a lush, full head of natural hair)
What he thinks about global warming: Like Barack Obama and John McCain, Biden supports instituting a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions from private industry. He is a co-sponsor along with Obama of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007, which calls for reducing carbon emissions to 80% of 1990 levels.
What he thinks about space exploration: I have no fucking clue. Biden apparently didn’t fill out the SEA questionnaire, so his page is silent on the subject. I presume he does not favor mothballing the manned space program. Since the vice president is traditionally the titular head of the space program, and Chairman of the Board at NASA, it would be nice to hear some more specifics from Biden about this.
What he thinks about science education: “This [trend of teaching intelligent design in science classes] is reversible, man. This is reversible. We don't have to go down this road. I refuse to believe the majority of people believe this malarkey!”
Yeah! You go, Joe, you fucking go!
Joe didn’t fill out the science and technology questionnaire, but check out his record on science issues according to the Scientists and Engineers for America right here.
(Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, former Miss Congeniality, master of the flute)
What she thinks about global warming: Really, who the hell knows? In an interview with Newsmax in August, she admitted climate change could affect her state of Alaska especially, but also said, “I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”
A month later during her infamous interview with noted hardball journalist Katie Couric, Palin responded to a question about man-made global warming like this: “You know there are — there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with now, these impacts. I'm not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate. Because the world’s weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn’t matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it’s real; we need to do something about it.”
So, from what I can decipher, Palin might or might not believe global warming is man-made, but we should act to minimize it anyway.
What she thinks about space exploration: Like Biden, I have no clue whatsoever. Palin also has not answered the SEA questionnaire, so her record on the site is culled from other sources. In the month or so since she joined the Republican ticket, she has apparently taken no public position on the space program. I’m not surprised — there have been other issues in the news demanding her attention, including the economic crisis, the war in Iraq, and the possibility that she is functionally retarded. If she and McCain are elected, I just hope someone informs her of her responsibilities as head of the American space program at some point, so she can appoint a competent proxy to attend the NASA board meetings.
What she thinks about science education: During a debate in the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial election, Palin responded to a question about evolution and intelligent design with, “I am a proponent of teaching both.” She later tried to clarify her position: “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”
Other pseudosciences which, presumably, Palin wouldn’t require as part of the public school science curriculum: geocentrism, astrology, and the flat earth model.
In her Couric interview, Palin claimed she believed evolution being taught as “an accepted principle. And, as you know, I say that also as the daughter of a school teacher, a science teacher, who has really instilled in me a respect for science.” Sounds good to me. It was probably her deep respect for science that led her to allow herself to be videotaped being exorcised by the pastor of her church.
See what the SEA has to say about Sarah’s record on science right here.